Raiyon Hunter, an Atlanta-based writer, director, producer and actress, joined the Children’s Theatre Company in May as the company’s casting director. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jason Vail

Raiyon Hunter, an Atlanta-based writer, director, producer and actress, joined the Children’s Theatre Company in May as the company’s casting director.

A native of New Orleans, Hunter moved to Atlanta to study the arts, receiving her bachelor’s in theatre at Spelman College. She assumed the position with the CTC following a stint with Alliance Theatre, where she served as a Spelman Leadership Fellow, a highly-competitive, full-time, two-year artistic position within the company. She’s also garnered career experience through The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

As casting director, Hunter will work with the company’s actors to cast roles in upcoming shows in the 2023-24 performance season, and assist in recruiting new talent for the theater. Hunter will also help manage the CTC’s Performing Apprentice program, an opportunity for young adult performers aged 19 and older to act alongside company talent and guest artists in future shows.

The Atlanta Children’s Theatre Company introduces kids to the ins-and-outs of live performance through summer camps, after-school programs and workshop opportunities, serving as a stepping stone for many actors in the entertainment industry.
The Atlanta Voice spoke with Hunter about her background in theatre, methods of self-expression and expectations for the future as she settles into her new role at the Children’s Theatre Company.

The Atlanta Voice: You initially found a home in theatre at the age of five in your hometown of New Orleans, but migrated to Atlanta, attended Spelman and found work in the city’s theatre scene. How do the arts scenes differ in NOLA and Atlanta, and was it challenging to adapt to Atlanta’s theatre culture upon moving here?

Raiyon Hunter: New Orleans is a huge and vibrant city, but it doesn’t have a big theatre scene. Growing up, I went to one of the few Black Theatres, Anthony Bean Community Theatre, which introduced me to the world of professional stage performance. However, it was the only theatre I had access to. While there are a couple of staple theatres in the city, most of the art scene in New Orleans revolves around visual art and music. But even with the lack of formalized theatre, we still created performances, as the city itself is like a stage. When I moved to Atlanta, I was shocked to see how ingrained theatre culture was in the city. It was overwhelmingly beautiful. I wanted to be a part of everything but didn’t know where to begin. I’m grateful to my professors at Spelman and my mentors for guiding me and helping me navigate the theatre scene in Atlanta.

AV: On top of your acting experience, you write, produce and direct your own projects, many of which revolve around your identity as a Black woman based in the American South. How do you incorporate your day-to-day experiences as a Black woman into the art you create both inside and outside the theater?

RH: I don’t think I consciously try to incorporate my identity into my work because it’s already ingrained in everything I do. I lead from my lived experience as a Black Southern Woman because that’s what I know. Regardless of the project, my experiences are always at the forefront, shaping how I relate to the world. When I write my own work, the worlds I create are centered around the experiences of Black Southern Women. Having spent my entire life in the South, it has birthed me, raised me, and shaped me into the woman I am today.  Most of my characters are based on the dynamic people I’ve encountered, many of whom have roots below the Mason-Dixon line. There are a few quotes I will yell out any and all times and one of them is “The South got something to say.”

AV: What lessons did you learn working in casting at Alliance Theatre that you intend to carry with you to your new role at the Children’s Theatre Company?

RH: I was blessed to learn under some dynamic leaders at the Alliance who left me with so much [wisdom], but if I had to emphasize one lesson it’s: Listen more than you speak. It wasn’t even something they had to say out loud, it was cemented in the culture of the theatre. The artists and making sure their needs and concerns were heard and met was at the forefront of every conversation. 

AV: What excites you most about being able to work predominantly with child actors on a regular basis in this new role, and ultimately help them tap into their creativity and interest in the arts?

RH: I love working with young performers because kids are inherently artists. They are forever dreaming and discovery is within their DNA because the reality is they’re still discovering life. I think we all are at all times, but at some point in our growth, we feel like we have to have everything figured out. We feel like we can’t be vulnerable and open when we’re confused or don’t know something. That’s what makes [Theatre for Young Audiences] so magical. Many of the adult performers are inspired by the boldness and fearlessness of the young ones and they’re reminded to take leaps and dream again. 

AV: Many students turn to live theatre for acceptance or self-expression. Why is theatre (and the arts in general) an important space for creators to explore their identities and tell stories that are important to their heritage and upbringing?

RH: Theatre is so ensemble-based and one of the few art forms where we get to feel a sense of togetherness even in silence. When we witness a performance that holds such deep meaning to someone’s culture or heritage, we can really feel the impact of the piece, not just individually, but also collectively. Theatre has the power to be transformative. The presence of real live people on stage creates a deeper connection than what you would feel through a screen. Just like live music, theatre keeps us enthralled in the story, making it harder for us to disengage and fostering a shared experience that is truly profound.

AV: What are some personal long-term goals you have as a writer, producer, director and performer?

RH: To live. Seriously, I have a lot of things I’d like to accomplish in this industry. My dreams could probably fill up an ocean, but I can’t bring them to fruition without surviving and living first. An ultimate goal is to create a space specifically for coming-of-age pieces by and for BIPOC women, but in order to get there, there needs to be some serious change in how regional theatre operates and I’m excited to be a part of those conversations.

AV: What advice would you give a child who may be interested in the arts, but is afraid to take that initial leap to try it out for themselves?

RH: Do it for you. A lot of the hesitation we have when trying something new is fear of failure. Most of the time, the thought of failing in front of other people hurts more than the concept of failing in and of itself. The only person who has anything to lose by not doing it is you. One quote I continuously remind myself of is from Hana Sharif and it goes “I’m not motivated by fear, and I don’t let other people’s fear and anxieties move me either.”